Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?

Humans are living longer now than we ever have in history. The longevity of a person’s lifespan is considered one of the greatest achievements of this generation. Advancements in medicine, technology, and healthcare have provided us with the ability to live twenty-five years longer than we did a hundred years ago.

But, what about the quality? We are living longer but we are not necessarily living healthier. Throughout the past ten years the number of adults living with chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer has increased from 9 to 30 percent. Over half the population is in chronic pain while depression and anxiety continue to rise.

What is contributing to this rapid decline of our health? One major problem is the amount of time we sit. Studies show the average American worker sits around 13 hours a day. This type of sedentary lifestyle has been scientifically supported to lead to a decline in overall health, an increase in disease, and a greater chance of premature death. Since 1950, sedentary jobs have risen 83 percent, leaving less than 20 percent of jobs involving physical activity.

 
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The body is not physically designed to sit for hours at a time. Whilewe sit, blood and lymph (immune boosting white blood cells) are not able to circulate properly. This stunts the body’s immune system and prevents the disposal of toxins. The lack of blood circulation means that the nutrients, oxygen and other elements of the blood cannot be delivered properly to the body. Sitting also creates a muscular imbalance in the neck and shoulders, causing them to round forward and create a stooped posture. This position is not only to blame for neck and back pain, but it also prevents the lungs from fully expanding allowing for less oxygen to be circulated throughout the body.

These physiological shifts in the body that happen while we sit directly lead to an increased likelihood of disease. In a study done at the University of Regensburg in Germany, sitting was associated with a 24 percent increased risk of colon cancer, a 32 percent increased risk of endometrial cancer and a 21 percent increased risk of lung cancer. Sedentary lifestyle also accounts for 22 percent of coronary heart disease cases and is a top contributor to the 29 million Americans diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes.

The deprivation of oxygen and blood flow that happens while you sit also effects the brain and cognitive function. Thinking, memory, sleeping and breathing become more difficult and there is a decline in motor control and coordination. Studies also link the amount a person sits to an increase risk of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. There is no doubt that the amount we are sitting today is leading to a decline in our health. But what can we do to change?

One easy solution is to choose standing over sitting. Studies show increased productivity, better respiration, reaction and alertness when standing. Circulation is also improved and when standing properly it can offset the muscular imbalances that occur while sitting, lessening neck and back pain. Another solution is to sit a less total time throughout the day. Go for a walk after dinner instead of watching television, park your car farther away at the grocery store, get up from your desk every half hour and take a walk around the office. Simply interrupting your sitting throughout the day can have immense benefits on your health.

 
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Combining less sitting with increased physical activity is the perfect solution to improving your health and decreasing your chance of disease. Set a small goal and stick to it. Start with a walk around the block 3 times a week for a month. After that, lengthen your walk and maybe try for 4 times a week. Exercise with friends to make it more enjoyable. Go for a hike, take a yoga class or join a gym! Every bit of physical activity is important. True happiness and health are possible and it begins when you take control of your life.